Mountain Biking in the Dark at Night
There are loads of good reasons for hitting the trails after dark, including:
- More riding time. A typical working day means no winter daylight after work in the north east of Scotland.
- Old trails become new. Your favourite trails take on a different charachter in the dark, with holes appearing bigger, slopes steeper and trail exposure fades.
- Adrenaline rush. What was that noise, is there a monster round the corner? Who knows?
- Night riding is more social. Riding solo at night can be dangerous, so you will want at least one trail buddy with you.
- Maintain your mountain biking skills. Use it or loose it, as they say, so night riding helps you to keep using, and improving, your MTBing skills.
- Dark trails are empty trails. No problems finding a space in the car park, and no dog walkers or hikers on the trail.
- Wildlife spotting. Deer, badgers, owls are all out there, and you have more chance of spotting them at night.
Convinced? If so, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your time in the dark.
Ride With a Mate
It is not that it is too scary to go out on your own, it is just more fun with a group of mates. It’s also safer to go out with someone else, in case of a tumble or mechanical. Good idea to tell someone where you are heading and when you’ll be back.
Get Your Lights Set Up
Most importantly, make sure your batteries are fully charged. You don't want to be left in the dark - literally. It could take a good couple of hours to fully charge your batteries, so plan ahead and get them plugged in by mid day - or better still, the night before. It is a good idea to take along a small LED front light, the type popular with roadies, as a back up. You won't be able to shred the trails using it, but it will allow you to bimble back to the car park if your main lights are out of battery.
You will want two lights, a powerful and wide beam light on your bars and a lower powered but more focused spot on your helmet. Make sure they are securely fixed to your bike and your helmet. You don't want them drooping every time you hit a bump.
It is also worth while taking a bit of time to set them up properly. Adjust the beam of the bar mounted light to hit the grouund centrally over the point in front of you where you would normally look, likely about 10-15 metres in front of you. Now set the position of your helmet mounted light to be slightly in front of where the other light beam hits the ground.
The Dress Code
It is colder at night, and the temperature drops quickly once the sun disappears so think about an extra layer. Perhaps a thin shell or gillet.
It’s also wetter at night, even in dry conditions, because dew forms. This will soak your legs and feet if you brush against long grass or heather so tights or trail trousers are a must, and waterproof socks are worth considering.
Have a towel, dry clothes and some poly bags for your riding gear in the car. You don't want to be leaving a muddy trail in the pub or chipper on your way home!
There are a few wee tricks that you can do to make your batteries last longer
- keep batteries war. Put external batteries in your back pack. Insulate lights with internal batteries with tennis sweat bands.
- when climbing, switch your main light to a low power setting and switch your helmet light off.
- for firebreak roads and access roads switch to low power.
- start your ride at the lowest brightness setting and let your eyes adjust to the darkness.
Choose your trails carefully and dial down the technicality until you are confident with riding in the dark. All trails are much more interesting at night and will make you feel that you’re riding faster, even though you’re not, so you don’t need to ride the most technical tracks.
It is not only your speed that will feel different, gaps and gradients will be more difficult to judge. So flowing trails that you know well are the best choice. Definitely not the orange graded jump trail!